Wildrose to members: Want to break a law? No problem! We'll just get elected and change it

7 June 2017 - 12:18pm
David J. Climenhaga

It turns out the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have a plan for ensuring their constituency associations get to hang onto their assets when they merge into the United Conservative Party, notwithstanding an Alberta law that says they can't.

It's breathtaking in both its simplicity and its arrogance. They'll just change the law to suit themselves.

This isn't unheard of in the annals of politics, of course, but it's certainly brazen to just lay it out as the Wildrosers did yesterday in a memorandum to their constituency association boards, which was also sent to the party's general membership.

The memorandum was apparently intended to reassure members who might be considering voting against the merger plan, although its eye popping chutzpah may shock some Albertans who aren't party members.

Wildrose members have apparently been asking their party leaders what will happen to the money they donated to the constituency associations in their electoral districts if the two conservative parties "merge" by agreeing to form a new political entity, the UCP, as set out in their May 18 unification memorandum.

Their worry, sensibly enough, is that since party mergers are not actually allowed under Alberta's Elections Finances and Contributions and Disclosure Act, it's not clear what would happen to the money they donated to a party that was slated to cease to exist. Under the Act, if a registered provincial political party is dissolved, the funds are held in trust by Elections Alberta and eventually passed on to the government of Alberta's general revenues.

Now, this part of Alberta's legislation was drafted and passed when the PCs were still the government of Alberta, and it was generally assumed they would be forever. If a party were to be dissolved, it was understood, it wouldn't be the Conservatives. It was also presumably accepted, quite rightly, that a donor to a political cause should have some reasonable certainty that his or her donation didn’t end up benefitting another political organization.

But that was then and this is now.

Accordingly, the Wildrose brain trust wrote its members, if the agreement in principle between the two parties is ratified on July 22 and then implemented, there are two "logical paths" that can be considered by Wildrose constituency associations, which are abbreviated as CAs in the memo.

The first, the memo says, is to "keep the CA's assets and go dormant (other than monthly bank service charges)." A short discussion of the process for filing records follows, then …

"In 2019, the United Conservative Party ('UCP') would form the government and change the law to permit mergers of political parties," the memo states. "At that time, the assets of the legacy Wildrose CA could be merged into the CA of the UCP in that constituency."

Don't worry! We'll be automatically elected. And when we are, we'll change the law to suit ourselves and to tilt the playing field in our direction. Easy-peasy!

My guess is that if a UCP government were elected, this formula would be applied to more than just this particular aspect of election financing. Indeed, Alberta would most likely say goodbye to the ban on corporate and union donations implemented by the NDP government of Premier Rachel Notley. This would certainly not be out of character with the self-interest, arrogance and entitlement evident in the Wildrose memo.

The other alternative, the memo goes on, would be to "transfer the CA's assets to the Wildrose Party and de-register the Wildrose CA."

"It is also possible that in time the UCP would be able to attain such financial strength that it could afford to transfer a like amount of cash to the UCP CA in that constituency," this section of the memo says. "There could be no guarantee of that, however, given that the UCP will need all of its money for the next two years to prepare for and run a general election campaign."

In fact, as the memorandum then indicates, the party has in mind using both stratagems, depending on which makes the most financial sense in the circumstances. "The first course above may be more suitable for Wildrose CAs with larger net assets; the second course may be more suitable for CAs with little or no assets."

The memorandum closes by urging Wildrose Party members to ratify the agreement in principle with Jason Kenney's PCs on July 22. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean's name does not appear on the email. Instead, the memorandum is attributed to James Cole, the party's treasurer, and Brandon Swertz, its fundraising VP. Both were Wildrose representatives on the parties' unity discussion group.

One wonders what Revenue Canada, which administers this provincial tax break, will have to say about this. The deduction for political donations is designed not merely to support the democratic process in Canada, but to ensure that money donated by Canadians goes to political parties those donors wish to support.

Many contributors to the Wildrose and PC parties would not want to see their contributions go either to the other party, or a party dominated by members of another group with which they profoundly disagree. Many Canadians would argue that what is discussed in the Wildrose memo would be a serious misapplication of the federal government's policy on political deductions. And -- who knows? -- Ottawa might have some kindly advice about that, being concerned with the rule of law and the like.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Mack Male/flickr

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Why are the Liberals resurrecting the Conservatives' target benefit plan agenda?

7 June 2017 - 9:18am
June 7, 2017Liberals break pension plan promise with Bill C-27 Bill C-27 establishes a framework for target benefit pensions in the federal private sector and Crown corporations. Why are the Liberals resurrecting the Conservatives' pension plan agenda?

There is no good reason to allow the Liberals to defend the constitutional status quo

6 June 2017 - 9:58am
June 6, 2017Trudeau ready to defend constitutional status quo without consulting Indigenous nationsThe government of Quebec wants to put change on the Canadian agenda. Their desire to partner with Indigenous peoples in creating a new agenda for debate should be welcomed.

Trudeau ready to defend constitutional status quo without consulting Indigenous nations

6 June 2017 - 9:53am
Indigenous RightsPolitics in Canada

In the 150th year of Confederation, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard wants to talk about how Canada governs itself. Justin Trudeau put him off, saying he did not want to open the Canadian Constitution for debate.

As former premier of Ontario Bob Rae pointed out, the Canadian Constitution is a living document, and discussion of its workings cannot be closed down.

Trudeau himself has initiated changes to the way the Senate is appointed and how it operates. Real Senate reform would require constitutional changes, as Rae pointed out.

Couillard wants Quebec to engage with Canada, and lamented how much of his province has lived in a sort of internal exile from Canada. Being a Quebecer is "our way of being Canadian" is the message the Quebec Liberal government wants to communicate across Canada.

In releasing a 177-page discussion paper, Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadian, on June 1, the Liberal premier suggested that opening up a dialogue on Canada should be of interest to all Canadians and their representatives, and particularly to Aboriginal Nations.

Yes, there is something for the Quebec government in this approach. Couillard is playing for political advantage at home.

The premier wants Quebec to divide politically, not over what to do about the economy, but along sovereignist versus federalist lines, leaving his Liberals on one side (with a fledging NDP in Quebec for company), and his main opponents, the PQ and the resurgent Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), on the other side (with Québec Solidaire (QS)).

The CAQ is emerging as a threat to the Quebec Liberals. CAQ leader and former PQ minister François Legault has an ambiguous position on Quebec and federalism that amounts to "let's talk about this later" -- once more important issues have been addressed.

The more important issues are right-wing economic ideas of the type being pursued by Couillard and his party.

Liberals fear the lagging economy makes the CAQ an alternative to the government in the provincial election slated for 2018.

Couillard wants the CAQ painted as an unacceptable sovereignist party to scare off Liberal voters unhappy with his government who might be tempted by Legault.

Meanwhile, the sovereignist PQ have taken sovereignty off the table for the next campaign, pledging instead to provide good government in its first mandate, before tackling sovereignty, presumably in the second mandate.

Couillard would like nothing better than to push the PQ into defending its sovereignty position in the run-up to the fixed date election next year.

The highly progressive QS occupy not only the left of the socio-economic terrain deserted by the PQ (and after Jean Charest took over the leadership, by the Liberals) but are also hunting sovereignist voters.

A poorly disguised effort by PQ leader Jean-François Lisée to draw the QS under a PQ-held umbrella of sovereignist parties did not tempt the QS.

Among the issues not addressed by the Canadian Constitution are economic and social rights. These were left out of the Canadian Charter, though they are included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

As noted in the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Canadian government abstained at the committee stage in voting for the Universal Declaration (drafted by Canadian John Humphries), and only voted "yes" in plenary session to avoid being in the "no" camp with apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union.

These UDHR rights, while not binding on governments, spell out undertakings no Canadian government has been unwilling to fulfill.

UDHR Articles 22-27 set out rights to "social security" through national efforts that a walk through downtown Canada today with homeless people at so many corners and doorways shows to be missing in this country.

Article 25 of the Universal Charter sets out an agenda worthy of Canadian aspirations today:

"[T]he right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself [sic] and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his [sic] control."

The government of Quebec wants to put change on the Canadian agenda. Their desire to partner with Indigenous peoples in creating a new agenda for debate should be welcomed.

The Trudeau government has been ducking the major challenges. How is Canada going to meet its Paris Climate Accord targets? What will the post-NAFTA Canadian economy look like? Why must Canadian women pay the price for austerity?

There is no good reason to allow the federal Liberals to defend the constitutional status quo. Debating what needs to be done to improve the well-being of Canadians with special reference to Aboriginal peoples should be warmly welcomed.

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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What will it take to decolonize CanLit?

4 June 2017 - 9:26pm
June 4, 2017Writing and listening with love and respect: Towards decolonial love in CanLitThe recent Write editorial and ensuing debate on cultural appropriation shows how much work there is left to do.

Unions prepared to fight for precarious workers, say proposed labour reforms are incomplete

2 June 2017 - 5:37pm
Meagan Gillmore

Ontario's proposed changes to labour laws will not increase protection for those in factual TV -- or many other precarious workers.

The provincial government introduced changes to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and Labour Relations Act (LRA) on June 1. The proposed changes include raising the general minimum wage to $15 by January 2019, ensuring all employees have 10 personal emergency leave days, two of which are paid, and paying part-time, seasonal, casual and temporary employees the same as full-time employees when they're doing the same work for the same employer.

These changes are good, but they won't benefit everyone.

The Changing Workplaces report, released May 23, recommended the government include "dependent contractors" as employees in the ESA. Dependent contractors are already included in the LRA.

The government has chosen not to, instead saying it intends to focus on increased enforcement to make sure employers don't misclassify "employees" as "independent contractors." It says changing the definition could lead to legal confusion.

 "Independent contractors" are not entitled to the same benefits as employees, like standard hours of work or breaks. Workers are often misclassified as "independent contractors" even though they work as employees.

Dependant contractors fall between "employees" and "independent contractors," those who rely on several employers for their income. Dependent contractors often rely on a few employers. They are financially dependent on these employers.

The government's decision to not consider an expanded definition of "employees" drew sharp criticism from the Canadian Media Guild (CMG).

"The two-year Changing Workplaces Review process that was designed to address precarious work avoided making direct changes affecting the very people who are systematically precarious -- that is, most of those who work from contract to contract," Lise Lareau, coordinator of the union's Fairness in Factual TV campaign, said in a statement.

The union has been working to organize workers in reality and factual TV for years, saying these workers best exemplify the dangers of precarious employment. These workers are often misclassified as independent contractors. They have unstable contracts, working hours and payment. The film and TV industry is an exempt industry, so employment standards don't apply to them. Unions exist for some film and TV workers, like writers and directors, but none specifically for those in factual TV. They have no union representation or government protection.

The government's recommended changes are beneficial "as long as you're an employee and you don't work in a sector that qualifies for a huge loophole in labour law," Lareau further says in the statement.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) had similar concerns.

"There's a number of missed opportunities," said Chris Buckley, OFL president.

Increases to minimum wage and equal pay for equal work show the government heard many workers' concerns, he said.

"Have they been heard loud enough? At this point, I'd say no," he said.

The government identified misclassification of employees as independent contractors as a priority concern.

If passed, the new bill "would create a new stand-alone contravention for misclassification that explicitly prohibits employers from treating employees as if they were not entitled to the ESA's protections," the Ministry of Labour said in a statement sent to rabble.ca

Employers who do misclassify employees could be fined or prosecuted. Their misclassification of employees may also be made public.

If passed, employers will be responsible for proving that employees who say they are misclassified are independent contractors and not employees.

The CMG raised doubts about the significance of this prohibition. These "nice-sounding promises" mean "nothing since no new classifications have been created," Lareau says in the statement, noting the CMG suggested the government create classifications like "freelance employee" or "contract employee."

The definition of "employee" is a subject of much debate.

Changing the definition could be legally confusing, the government says.

In a 2012 report on vulnerable workers, the Law Commission of Ontario said increased enforcement was the best way to respond to the problem of misclassification.

Expanding the definition of employee could "create a lot of complexity" for true independent contractors, said Nye Thomas, the executive director of the commission. Thomas became executive director in 2015, after the report was released. He said the commission's opinion on the matter hasn't changed. Changing the definition may restrict how many hours independent contractors can work in a week, or how much they are to be paid. Case law determines if someone is an independent contractor, Thomas said.

The final Changing Workplaces report disagrees. The report says including "dependent contractors" in the definition of employee would bring more clarity to the law.   

Not including "dependent contractor" in the ESA's definition of employee "is fatal to any administrative or policy-based interpretation of employee that results in or seeks to extend the protections of the ESA to dependent contractors," the report says.

Unions will continue fighting for workers' rights. The government has said it plans to begin a review of existing industry exemptions this fall. The CMG calls this the "one encouraging aspect" of the government's plans, and will continue to tell the government about the industry's concerns, the union's statement says.

Buckley said the OFL will lobby the government throughout the summer with its concerns.

He's "cautiously optimistic" the government will do more to protect workers. "The labour movement is not going to sit down," he said.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: United Workers/flickr

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Liberals break pension plan promise with Bill C-27

2 June 2017 - 12:06pm
Peter Whitaker

On October 19, 2016, the anniversary of the Liberal government's election, Finance Minister Bill Morneau introduced his Target Benefit Plan (Bill C-27). It establishes a framework for target benefit pensions in the federal private sector and Crown corporations. The bill was introduced without any press release and no advance notice to unions, pension plan members or retirees, and no public consultation.

Unions and retiree groups were quick to condemn the Liberals for resurrecting the Harper Conservatives' target benefit plan agenda, abandoned in 2014. All the major unions called on the finance minister to withdraw the bill. On February 7, 341 retirees and union members lobbied individual MPs.

In February, the finance minister put Bill C-27 on hold until May 15 and invited select unions to make submissions. No retiree groups, retirees or the public were notified or invited to make submissions despite many requests that went unanswered. Finally, on April 25, the Finance Department relented and told the National Association of Federal Retirees that submissions would be accepted until mid-May. These invitations, coming after Bill C-27 was introduced, cast doubt about the authenticity of the consultations. Changes to the pension landscape, through the introduction of a target benefit plan designed to allow employers and governments to abandon their pension promises and legal obligations, cannot be made without true, thorough public debate and consultation that includes pensioners. In a letter to select unions, the Finance Department stated, "The government is always open to hearing the views of stakeholders on its commitments and actions," but this has not proven to be true.

Thousands of retirees and plan members wrote their MPs and received the same form response, with the words "requires individual informed consent from plan members and retirees" in bold highlighting. Consent to a target benefit plan is unlikely to be informed or freely given. Employers will reap huge benefits if plan members can be persuaded to surrender their benefits. Employers can offer perks, workplace training and promotional opportunities, improved benefits and compensation packages or simply commit to continue to invest in the operation and employee staff. Many retirees are justifiably worried about their future and do not have a deep understanding of the pension plan. Employers can also use threats: potential job losses, reduced hours of work, reduced investment, fewer workplace opportunities, scaling back benefits, and even threats of lockouts, restructures or bankruptcy, if members don't surrender their benefits, which come with a defined benefit pension.

In 2011, the government adopted back-to-work legislation against postal workers that imposed final and binding arbitration through final offer selection and mandated that the arbitrator must consider the pension plan and could not impose any measure that would increase the deficit. The fact that Bill C-27 is ambiguous with respect to the role of unions in relation to the consent process for defined benefit plan to target benefit plan conversion is a major concern. Retirees could be faced with a fait accompli if Canada Post unions are forced to concede to consent on behalf of their members to convert the defined benefit plan into a target benefit plan, as there would no longer be anyone contributing to the defined benefit plan. The Liberal government is being dishonest in suggesting that conversion "would be by individual consent."

On May 8, CLC President Hassan Yussuff delivered this message: "Minister Morneau, withdraw or change Bill C-27 or you will see the biggest shit fight of the century." The solution to the pension problem in Canada, adopted by the delegates to the CLC Convention, was "to maintain the existing age of eligibility, and to increase these benefits to ensure that no one retires in poverty after a lifetime of work."

Peter Whitaker is Central Region representative for the National Organization of Retired Postal Workers and retiree representative for CPC Pension Advisory Council.

Photo credit: Manon Parrot

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Writing and listening with love and respect: Towards decolonial love in CanLit

2 June 2017 - 9:23am
Rita WongHiromi Goto

"Words are medicine." -- Helen Knott

"It's time we talk and it's time we heal." -- Richard Van Camp

The Spring 2017 issue of Write has gotten a lot of attention, much of it going to the distressingly insulting editorial by Hal Niedzviecki. As members of the Writers' Union, we were horrified by the editorial, but we didn't want to expend our limited energy reacting to it because that issue holds something much more important: the stories and thoughts of so many incredible Indigenous writers. It was heartening to hear Jesse Wente re-centre these writers in his lucid and wise comments to CBC, and subsequently acknowledge the work of writer and publisher Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, who founded Kegedonce Press.

We are deeply grateful to these and many other writers whose frank responses have generated so much necessary discussion. They have refused to allow the debate to be mischaracterized as solely one of (white) freedom of expression, but rather hold us to a higher standard -- a grounded understanding of the historical context and contemporary moment in which we write and interact. Depending on how one sees it, this is a critical moment in the decolonization and survival of Turtle Island or a re-containment of Indigenous people in the state apparatus of Canada 150, or both.

An old discussion

What recently erupted is part of a very old discussion. One could turn to Pauline Johnson (via Wayde Compton) writing in 1892 on the dreadful misconceptions written out of arrogance and ignorance, so "dwarfed, erroneous and delusive" (Toronto Sunday Globe May 22, 1892, reprinted in Canadian Literature April 2013), or to Vine Deloria's incisive overview of how Americans have preferred the echo chamber of white appropriation to actually listening to Native Americans themselves (chapter 2 of God Is Red), or to the work of Marcia Crosby, Daniel Francis, and many others who've discussed the harmful effects of misrepresentation on Indigenous peoples.

Some things have been messy, to understate it, but it's clear to us that what's at stake is what kind of relationships settlers (or unsettlers) want to have with this land and the land's Indigenous peoples. In order for that relationship to be honest and meaningful, it has to be grounded in acknowledging the violent inequities and material injustices that still need to be addressed, not smoothing over them and ignoring them because of discomfort, fear, guilt, or personal insecurity. It has to be grounded in historical facts, not in ego trips or colonial delusions.

The trauma of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, broken treaties, land theft, murdered and missing Indigenous women and more is a shared one when we consider that it is happening in shared space -- the imperial delirium or haunted house also known as Canada. We may be differently positioned, but make no mistake that we are all impacted by this trauma in specific ways and need to find ways to stop the systemic oppression of Indigenous peoples. If we focus on achieving long overdue equity, we can build relationships that are better than the dehumanizing and alienated ones that colonization would consign us to. As Louise Bernice Halfe phrases it in the latest issue of Write, "In order to help heal the wounded present and for people to move forward, history needs to be understood and explained." We are moved by the courage and eloquence of the writers who so generously share their words, despite being ambushed by the publication's editor and an organization that needs to seriously examine how it could have allowed this to happen.

Writing takes risks and makes writers and readers vulnerable to one another. Many have been irreparably harmed by colonization; the land is full of corpses and ancestors who were prematurely killed or devastated by the colonial machine. Writing creates another chance to build, or break, trust. It's enraging and despairing when that trust is abused. But the risks are taken so that we can learn to become better relatives (or at least neighbours) to one another. For example, Helen Knott and Richard Van Camp's fiction in this issue of Write guide readers toward a path where we can learn to be each other's medicine, to collectively heal from a bullying culture made official and systematic by the Canadian state and its servants.

As Alicia Elliott so clearly states, "It's well past time for Canadians to actually consider this country's historical context, recognize how it impacts the present -- and start the hard work of making it right for the future." The Writers' Union's equity task force statement also emphasizes this when it states, "An apology is only worth its salt if it opens the door to better actions and better relations in the future."

Taking action

We are hopeful that the Writers' Union will take up the calls for action made by its Equity Task Force. These are a good start. We wonder if an Elders' Council could be formed to guide the union through the coming years. And if the union could acknowledge the Indigenous etymology of the word "Canada" on its website, so that the name of this country is not merely an ahistorical appropriation of the Huron-Iroquois language, but a call to deeply grapple with its (tragi-comic?) implications. As an act of reparation, it would be good to see the union offer free memberships to Indigenous writers, if they want them, which they might not, we realize. The work to be done reverberates within but also far beyond the Writers' Union.

As Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm stated in The Globe and Mail on May 19:

"It is time now for us to refocus our energies on what matters to us: first and foremost, working within our communities to strengthen, empower and build each other up. We need to envision, together, the world we want to create and work without this distraction. Many Indigenous writers are writing with a reinvigorated drive, heartened by the way so many of us came together and talking about new collaborations and new projects. It is exciting. We're dreaming about a future and how to get there."

What has come out of the Can or Can't Lit maelstrom is an urgent reminder of where to put our efforts -- towards decolonial love. As Alicia Elliott states so succinctly in this issue of Write, "You need to write with love. That is what I felt when I read Leanne Simpson's stories. That's what I feel when I read the work of Gwen Benaway, Waubgeshig Rice, Katherena Vermette, Eden Robinson, Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm and Cherie Dimaline." While she is addressing Indigenous readers specifically, we would add that non-Indigenous readers are also capable of love. But first these readers have to humbly listen with their hearts and minds open, not deny anything that doesn't centre their own privilege first and foremost.

As Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm points out in Write, "The Canadian reading public tends to embrace only a small handful of Indigenous writers, and we'd like to see that change." So the in-progress to-do list includes:

  • Read more books by Indigenous writers (buy them if you can afford it, or borrow them in the public library if not)
  • Support Indigenous communities through volunteering, donating, and also finding ways to systematically fund them so that it's about structural justice and restitution, not only individual charity (the latter is a start, and we don't discount it, but we believe we need to work toward systems change as well)
  • Work on understanding your own family history and taking responsibility for it so that you don't go stealing others' stories like a hungry ghost who can never be satisfied because you'll never have what you truly need if you're looking for it in the wrong place
  • Unlearn automatic domination, something that may have been naturalized in your upbringing if you were born into a colonially invested family -- this unlearning or reality check is also a gift that connects you with the rest of humanity and the Earth
  • If you can afford it donate to the Emerging Indigenous Voices Award, which has raised more than $100,000 after setting a goal of $10,000
  • A healthy culture is based on much more than individual prizes. What if we also "think for a time about literature prizes going to the communities that help support them? Can we think about literary prize money going to land and water defenders, and to the communities that help support them? Can we begin to think of literary prizes being awarded to collectivities, to community groups, organizations and presses that help bring writers and their words to light? How can we transform CanLit in these and other ways to build a revitalized and truly equitable literary culture?" (Karina Vernon)
  • What else makes sense in light of your individual talents and your social contexts?

We don't want to speak for others, but we do want to speak with or near them. Like Alicia Elliott, we have been profoundly changed by Leanne Simpson's work in Islands of Decolonial Love. It's going to take decolonial love for us to work together with compassion, patience, and care. Mistakes can and do happen. Our responsibility is to learn from them and refuse to repeat them so that we can be present for one another and for the land. In this time of accelerating climate destabilization, we believe we need, more than ever, to learn to work together to become better relations. What we cannot achieve alone, we might find a way to accomplish together. It starts with listening and acting from a place of love and respect for Indigenous people and their perspectives.

RW Note: I first came across Helen Knott's work on her blog which I highly recommend, and I have been inspired by her work to protect her traditional Treaty 8 territories in the Peace River watershed from the neo-colonial violence of the Site C dam. The group Poets for the Peace has formed in response to Helen's call -- and one tangible thing you can do in solidarity with her work is to hold a poetry slam for the Peace. Richard Van Camp's books have been rocking my world ever since I read The Lesser Blessed and Angel Wing Splash Pattern many years ago, and more recently A Blanket of Butterflies and Godless But Loyal To Heaven.

Hiromi Goto is a writer and a creative writing facilitator who gratefully lives on unceded Coast Salish Lands. www.hiromigoto.com

Rita Wong is a poet-scholar who works with and for water as she lives on unceded Coast Salish lands. She is the author of four books of poetry, a graphic collection, and recently co-edited an anthology called Downstream: Reimagining Water with Dorothy Christian.

Photo: Mike/flickr

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rabble radio features voices from 2017 CLC convention

2 June 2017 - 7:55am
June 2, 2017Voices and ideas from the 2017 Canadian Labour Congress Conventionrabble radio brings you some of the ideas and voices we heard on the convention floor. And, we introduce you to our new labour reporter.

What a renegotiation of NAFA could mean for privacy and net neutrality

1 June 2017 - 9:34am
June 1, 2017NAFTA renegotiation could undermine Canada's digital freedomsThere are a number of concerns that come along with a renegotiation of NAFTA. Canadians enjoy stronger digital rights protections than their U.S. counterparts -- policies that could be placed at risk.

NAFTA renegotiation could undermine Canada's digital freedoms

1 June 2017 - 9:24am
Civil Liberties WatchEconomyTechnology

We're just over 100 days into Donald Trump's presidency, and already there's a great deal of concern around the president's digital agenda. On privacy, Trump's Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has overseen a sharp spike in invasive digital devices searches at the border, and is even threatening to force travellers to hand over social media passwords as a matter of routine.

Meanwhile, Ajit Pai, Trump's appointee as head of the Federal Communications Commission, is aiming to overturn critical consumer safeguards, namely net neutrality, that hundreds of millions of Internet users depend on, including the many Canadians who enjoy using U.S. websites and online services.

And if that isn't enough to keep you up at night, a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) now looks imminent. First implemented in 1994, this trade deal is huge for Canada -- it impacts almost every sector of our economy, and the wrangling over whether and how it should be updated is sure to dominate headlines in the months ahead.

From a digital rights perspective, there are a number of big concerns that come along with a renegotiation of NAFTA. Canadians enjoy significantly stronger protections for privacy and net neutrality than their U.S. counterparts -- policies that could be placed at risk in the upcoming talks. We also enjoy a more flexible copyright system than our neighbours.

Recent U.S. legislation dramatically weakened rules governing the privacy of Internet users, enabling ISPs to track and sell their subscribers' information -- including their browsing history. In Canada, we have much stronger rules to prevent such abuses. Professor Michael Geist has commented that the U.S. and Canada "are on opposite tracks when it comes to the commercialization of online tracking by telecom companies" and warns that the U.S. is likely to use the NAFTA talks to force Canada to match its approach.

Canada also has some of the strongest pro-consumer net neutrality safeguards in the world, recently reinforced by the CRTC's landmark decision to ban telecom providers from engaging in discriminatory pricing practices. By contrast, the U.S. under Trump is moving to rapidly dismantle its own net neutrality safeguards, and again the concern is that they'll use NAFTA to force Canada into line with an agenda that prioritizes the narrow interests of U.S. telecom giants over the broader interests of Canadian consumers.

Perhaps most troublingly, the U.S. looks all but certain to use NAFTA to try to impose draconian new intellectual property rules on Canada. In fact, as Professor Geist notes, the U.S. starting position for NAFTA looks very similar to their stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is especially worrying given that the TPP proposed extending Canada's copyright terms by 20 years, robbing our public domain and costing our economy hundreds of millions.

With so many fundamental issues on the table, it's fair to say that Canada's overall ability to chart its own digital policy direction is now at stake. Over recent years, Canada's digital direction has diverged significantly from that of the U.S., and this divergence has unequivocally been to the benefit of Canadian Internet users.

That's why it's essential that Canada's negotiating team not only push back against U.S. demands on the specific policy areas outlined here, but also make clear that Canada will continue to shape a digital policy agenda that works for Canadians, and will not allow itself to be forced into line with America's anti-consumer approach.

At OpenMedia, we'll be watching developments closely, and you can stay in the loop by following us on Facebook, Twitter, and our website at OpenMedia.org

David Christopher is Interim Communications and Campaigns Director for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

Photo: thejuniorpartner/flickr

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Digital Freedom Updatenet neutralitydigital rightstrump administrationNAFTAdigital privacyDavid ChristopherDigital Freedom UpdateJune 1, 2017How Canadians can ensure we never repeat the mistakes of the TPP Why did the TPP prove to be so unpopular among the Canadian public? And what needs to be done to restore public trust in future trade processes?The TPP, Internet censorship, and Trudeau's first big test as prime ministerAlthough the previous government signed Canada on to the TPP, it will still need to be approved by the new Liberal government.Is your Internet data ending up in the NSA's hands?What's happening to our data on its journey around the Internet has deeply concerning privacy implications for all of us. Now a new educational platform is raising awareness of these issues.

Raising minimum wage good for business growth, advocates say

31 May 2017 - 3:20pm
Meagan Gillmore

Businesses have nothing to fear about the government's proposal to hike minimum wage to $15 an hour, say some Ontario small businesses and worker advocates.

The provincial government announced proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act and Labour Relations Act on Tuesday. This follows last week's release of the Changing Workplaces Review, the result of two years of consultation and review of Ontario's workplace legislation.

The new legislation is scheduled to be introduced this week.

The government plans to raise Ontario's general minimum wage to $14 an hour in January. It will increase to $15 an hour in January 2019, and then each year according to the rate of inflation. The minimum wage is set at $11.40 an hour now. It will rise slightly -- to $11.60 -- on Oct. 1 before climbing to $14 in January.

Approximately 30 per cent of Ontario workers get paid $15 an hour or less, Premier Kathleen Wynne said at Tuesday's announcement.

"It really is a good day for the little guy in Ontario," Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn, told reporters on Tuesday. Increasing the minimum wage will only benefit the province's economy, he said -- the money will be going to bread and diapers, not being stored in the Cayman Islands.

Workers' advocates say the proposed changes don't go far enough.

The final report recommended the government expand the definition of "employee" in the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to include "dependent contractors," those workers who are on contract to only one or two employers for their income. The government chose not to adopt this recommendation.

The government does plan on prohibiting employers from misclassifying employees as "independent contractors." Independent contractors aren't entitled to the same protections as employees under the ESA.

That's something some advocates were hoping to see, said Deena Ladd, coordinator at the Workers' Action Centre.

She applauded the government's intent to raise the minimum wage, saying it's an important step to fight against precarious work.

"All that these reforms are doing is putting in place a lot of fairness, and putting in place things that should have happened a long time ago," she said.

Many business owners also hailed the proposed legislation.

"Taking care of your staff is what leads to business growth. It's the first step," said Helmi Ansari, owner of Grosche. The company sells coffee, tea and coffee and tea accessories. It's a member of the Better Way to Build the Economy Alliance, a group of businesses committed to treating employees fairly. Grosche pays its 12 employees more than $16 an hour. Employees at the company's office in Cambridge earn $16.05 an hour; those at the company's Guelph store earn $16.50. Wages are based on the living wage of the community, said Ansari.

The minimum wage won't be rising to $15 for everyone. The minimum wage is still lower for students under 18. It sits at $10.70 now. It will increase to $13.15 in January and to $14.10 in January 2019. Liquor servers will still have a lower minimum wage. Right now, they get paid $9.90 an hour. It will climb to $12.20 in January and $13.05 the next year.

Flynn told reporters there is widespread support for students receiving a lower minimum wage because they're still learning. The minimum wage for servers is low to account for the amount they may earn in tips.

The government also plans to increase personal emergency leave time for all employees. The proposed legislation gives all employees 10 days of personal emergency leave, two of which are to be paid. Right now, only employees who work at businesses with more than 50 workers can get emergency leave, and none of it paid.

The two days of paid leave is less than the seven days advisers had suggested the government introduce, Flynn told reporters. "It's a starting point," he said. "It establishes a principle of sick pay."

"What we're announcing today is a new set of minimums," he said.

The legislation would also expand the reasons why someone can take emergency leave to include people needing to seek help for domestic violence situations. A private member's bill that called for Ontario to allow for up to 10 days of paid leave for domestic violence passed second reading in October.

That minimum is a "positive step in the right direction," said Dr. Kate Hayman, a member of the steering committee of the Decent Work and Health Network and emergency room doctor. The organization has been lobbying for paid sick days for years. It would have liked to see seven paid sick days in the legislation, Hayman said.

Businesses can afford paid sick days, said Jessica Carpinone, owner of Bread by Us bakery in Ottawa. The business is also part of the Better Way to Build the Economy Alliance. The company pays its full-time employees three hours' pay for sick days for up to seven days a year; part-time employees get the same for up to three days a year. It has seven full-time employees and two part-time employees.

"This encourages people to stay home when they're sick, which is step one," she said.

This is especially important in the food industry where sick workers can easily pass their illnesses on to customers.

The proposed legislation will also increase vacation pay to three weeks for employees once they've worked for an employer for five years.

Embracing these changes will only benefit businesses, said Carpinone. There will be challenges, but the "payoffs" are greater than the alternative -- resentful workers and high turnover rates, she said.

The government also plans to introduce changes to make sure that part-time, casual or temporary workers aren't paid less than full-time employees for doing the same job for the same employer.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo of Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn via mama! mia!/flickr

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Can a child fit into a womb? Brian Lilley apparently thinks so.

31 May 2017 - 1:47pm
Nora Loreto

When Niki Ashton announced that she's expecting, I was pretty excited for the inevitable worst hot take.

But the announcement that someone is going to give birth is a hard one for right-wing men to get mad about. After all, babies are the pinnacle of women's achievement.

So when run-of-the-mill right-wing hack Brian Lilley managed to squeeze out the tweet we had all been waiting for, it was a moment of catharsis: almost as good as the minute that you eject your placenta across the delivery room floor.

(Or, at least that's what I imagine happens. I've never had a vaginal delivery. I don't know what it's like.)

Lilley, reaching so very hard to say something, ejaculated this: "When @nikiashton announced she was pregnant she avoided the words baby or child. Congrats Niki but let's admit you are having a baby."

Ignoring the fact that no one can be pregnant with a child, for obvious physical reasons, it's worth noting that Ashton responded with a great burn.

Unlike Lilley, I have been pregnant and I have given birth. And his condemnation of Ashton's refusal to announce that she is pregnant with, I assume, a tiny little human raises a fascinating discussion. What exactly is that lump of cells called, as Lilley later argued that us Leftists call fetuses? Is there consensus from the men on what we should collectively call an unborn adult?

Being pregnant was the worst. For me, it was seven months of worry, illness and stress. I honour those individuals for whom pregnancy is a period of glowing, rock-hard nails, full and bountiful hair and non-stop daydreaming about their future bundle of joy.

But for me, it was not that. Every ultrasound I had brought new and difficult news. I struggled to call the two cell clusters growing within me my babies. But not for the twisted, anti-woman way that Lilley and his ilk might think.

I couldn't call them my babies for the same reason that I couldn't furnish their room, or procure the necessary supplies. I was scared that neither of them would be born. I was terrified that I would never be able to meet them.

Avoiding naming them as babies helped me suspend myself until the moments that I heard their first cries, and then know that regardless of whatever came next, I would at least have been able to meet my babies.

They are threenagers now, having gone from those first clusters of cells that made me too sick to walk or eat, to toddlers who are too busy to allow for me to be sick or eat.

At the heart of this issue is how the right uses language to restrict and deny access to reproductive health care. That anyone who believes that parents have the right to choose an abortion must also, therefore, not believe that a fetus is a baby.

Coming to terms with the fact that you will be a parent is a difficult process, and we all have our own coping mechanisms, traditions, cultural practices and intimate relationships to guide us along this path. Whether we gestate a peanut, a bean, a li'l slugger, a baby, a dinosaur or whatever we call it, it is the extension of our own personal journeys.

What you have inside you during those nine months evolves. For me, everything conceptually changed when they started kicking each other. But that's not everyone's experience, and it absolutely should not be generalized as such.

The people who weaponize the use of the word baby are our society's lowest form of pond-scum-sucking parasite. This transparent rhetorical tool is simply another way for these men to exert their control over our minds, while they work to use laws to exert control on our bodies.

To assume that a progressive person doesn’t call their fetus a baby for political reasons is deeply insulting and offensive, and Lilley should be embarrassed and ashamed.

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How to create a public broadcaster for Nova Scotia

31 May 2017 - 9:57am
Don Duchene

It is not a new idea -- just a new approach to an old idea: how to create a public broadcaster for Nova Scotia.

For over 20 years the idea of Nova Scotians having our own educational broadcaster has popped up, in fits and starts, but it has never put down roots. This new idea is built on the premise that the roots are already here, but they need nourishment in order to be nurtured into productivity. If we had a kick start, could that ongoing attention come from our many universities?

With that question, I began to talk with university presidents and academics to see if there might be an interest in some form of participation in the creation of a PBS-style of broadcaster. I knew that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, an important source of funding for universities, wanted to see research initiatives better explained to the public. Our own PBS could help facilitate that. Thinking further, universities, in return for access to the public purse, are feeling pressure from governments to defend their value not just to the economy but also to the public at large. Most universities have outreach programs. A public broadcaster might extend this outreach to make it more inclusive, more effective, especially with minority audiences. If even a small part of the resources now used to connect universities to the public they serve could be reallocated to a locally operated PBS, we would have a good beginning.

Not unexpectedly, these ideas received a warm reception in my early conversations. We all could envision a future where our many universities could be a significant source of content for a public broadcaster to be.

Other factors weigh in. We are an aged province -- a province that, because of this demographic, watches more TV than anywhere else in the country.

In my own experience as a documentary producer, I share the frustration with other producers, artists and writers, who now have little to no connection to the public of Nova Scotia with their ideas and works and have been left with almost no sources of production funding. True, CBC and CTV have local news and sports coverage and both Bell and EastLink have community channels, but these are not substitutes for documentaries that will bring the world to Nova Scotia and vice versa. Or, perhaps, in co-operation with university and college journalism programs, these community channels could themselves evolve into production facilities serving a new public broadcaster. Some of them are already licensed broadcasters themselves.

Something new is needed, a multi-platform broadcaster dedicated to local tastes and concerns and giving voices to local producers and artists. It would breathe new life into an industry that may otherwise disappear.

A small group of us are pushing this idea forward. I am joined by Don Gaudet (a broadcast consultant), Kevin Deveaux (an international development consultant) and by Darrell Varga (a NSCAD professor and film historian.) Together, with some research funds from the Canada Media Fund and Telefilm Canada, we are conducting a feasibility study. The study is pointing to a conclusion that a NS PBS is possible, providing certain conditions are met. Knowledge Network is doing it. Could we have a scaled- down version of Knowledge Network, perhaps a "Knowledge East?"

That idea will be explored in a public lecture in Halifax given by Rudy Buttignol, president and CEO of The Knowledge Network itself. A Q&A will follow the lecture -- a rare chance to see the inner workings of Canada's most successful public broadcaster. The event will give all of us an opportunity to imagine what it would be like to have a public broadcaster of our own.

Photo: George Rex/flickr

Film 'Forget Winnetou!' studies German idealization of Indigenous culture

31 May 2017 - 9:04am
Anti-RacismArts & CultureIndigenous Rights

"I make pretty good kimchi," Red Haircrow tells me from his apartment in Berlin. "I grew up with Asians -- Chinese/Hawaiins, Koreans…and, I kind of adopted a Japanese amma [grandmother] too." Kimchee is a spicy Korean side dish made from fermented vegetables.

Haircrow, who is half-Cherokee and half-Black, tells me growing up in Alabama was difficult. Indigenous people tended to view him as "not fully Native" while he was shunned by both Black and white communities. Fortunately, his Japanese amma was married to a Cherokee man and that's who taught him the language.

Now, he's in Germany and working on a documentary, Forget Winnetou!, with a local filmmaker about the German idealization of Indigenous peoples and the "tradition" of dressing up and pretending to be Native.

It all stems from the novels of Karl May who published his first book about a character named Winnetou in 1870. By then Germans had already had a fill of what they thought were Indigenous cultures through Wild West shows brought to them by Americans.

The many books about Winnetou, an Apache man, and his adventures with his white friend Old Shatterhand, sold 200 million copies. Hitler, a fan of the reservation system, gave the books to his generals.

"He is part of German pop culture," explains Haircrow. "It's a perceived cultural ideal for them. Winnetou is a hysterically defended figure, especially for the generation born after the Second World War -- they could step outside their Nazi history as children and escape into this other world."

Haircrow's co-director Timo Kiesel, agrees: "For me, it was normal to dress up as Native…. just for fun." Kiesel says the popularity of Winnetou is likely to due to the fact modern Germany -- in the 19th century -- had no founding myth… so they adopted one, so to speak.

Kiesel grew up near Stuttgart, outfitted in headdresses for parties, painting faces and crafting bows and arrows.

"I never dressed as a cowboy, I always wanted to be an American Indian," he told me in an email. "My parents were in the eco-movement and liked being in nature…fitting my notion [that it was connected] to Native Americans."

German appropriation through popular books

For two years, the pair have been developing and filming Forget Winnetou! They are currently raising funds to do post-production and distribution. Plans are to have screenings in North America and Germany at the start.

The feature-length film examines May's character and German appropriation including the hobby culture around Native Americans. Hobbyist groups in the country gather in teepee camps every year, each individual having taken on a tribe, doing research and informing others of the customs, foods and history of their "tribe." One of the sources interviewed for the film is Canadian photographer Jen Osborne who has been documenting this phenomenon.

"[The hobbyists] will argue to me that they know more [about Indigenous] culture," Haircrow said. "It's unreal."

"[The hobbyists] have told me: This isn't for you. This is for us. They see it as -- the Natives shouldn't have allowed Europeans into their country, they should have defended their land [and culture]."

According to Haircrow, that's why Indigenous people are highly exalted among the alt-right in Germany -- they are symbolic of something noble, pure and thus, fetishized.

Haircrow decided to move to Berlin after a holiday in 2003. He is pursuing an MA in psychology, focused on Native healing and mental health. He's been here with his son for 10 years.

"It was so hard for my son in Alabama…the kids were being bullied and mocked."

Haircrow said school therapists would tell minority children they should "become more white and therefore, they'd have less problems."

Forget Winnetou! team L to R: Red Haircrow, Timo Keisel and Natasha John

'You're not a nice Indian'

Haircrow, whose father was Black and whose mother was Native American, was born on the U.S. military base in Frankfurt am Main. His family moved back to the U.S. when he was four.  He was always intrigued about his birthplace.

However, Germany poses a different kind of challenge.

"They want you to be the stereotype here [and] then they'll treat you like a rock star," he said. "Germans will tell a scalping joke and I'm not laughing and tell them it's not funny. They will say to me 'you're not a nice Indian.'"

Haircrow will attempt to explain why and sometimes they will understand and tell him they'll never talk like that again.

"It's a different kind of oppression here -- I can handle it because the racism was like 100 times a day in Alabama," he explained.

Kiesel says there are many German books "written from a white perspective" about Indigenous peoples.

"I read about 60 volumes of [Karl May's] books and my view on Native topics and realities was highly influenced by his descriptions," he divulged.

That was until he grew up and travelled to the Middle East and read Edward Said's book on Orientalism. Kiesel decided to quit his studies in Berlin and pursued an MA in Postcolonial Studies at Goldsmith's College in London.

"[I was] confronted strongly with my liberal white supremacy and privileges."

Kiesel, in teaming up with Haircrow on the documentary, seeks to dig up the history of "German Indianthusiasm" (a term coined by German professor Harmut Lutz) and also to undo the reductionism done to Native culture. They are hoping to finish post-production later this year -- so fundraising now is very important.

"Throughout Germany history, we can see that every regime used the imaginary ideal of Natives for their own purposes," noted Kiesel.

Haircrow realizes the film could stir up controversy and uncomfortable reactions.

"For me it's about reaching people who want to do better," he points out. "It's an opportunity and possibly an example for Canada and the U.S. because here there's not hundreds of years of that genocidal history [albeit Germany has enacted different genocides]… unlike North America."

He's been following the appropriation controversy in Canada closely and is resigned: "That's what white supremacy really is. It's not hate crimes. It is… simply society letting you do things like that and letting you get away with it because you're white."

Haircrow adds this antipathy towards Indigenous people is ingrained in North America -- it's very hard to un-do. Germany, though, could be a different story.

"I believe that if Karl May were alive today, he'd be more politically active and would probably want to get rid of his books," declares Haircrow.

For updates on the film, follow its Facebook page.

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.

Images courtesy of Forget Winnetou!

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indigenous culturecultural appropriationdocumentary filmGerman HistoryPopular CulturestereotypesJune ChuaMay 31, 2017The many fascinating facets of 'Who is Arthur Chu?' They say the personal is political. And the film "Who is Arthur Chu?" is testament in every way to that statement. It's featured in this year's Hot Docs festival launching April 27 in Toronto.The embarrassing, stone-deaf whiteness of Canadian media leadersThe cultural appropriation prize that circulated on Twitter this week is evidence of how far Canadian media still has to go.Top 10 list: How not to respond to Indigenous experiences of racism in CanadaA summary of these knee-jerk responses that are always trotted out by the masses when indigenous people describe their experiences of racism, and why you should not use them.

Activists Clayton Thomas-Müller and Vandana Shiva speak today at Tommy Douglas Institute

31 May 2017 - 8:24am
May 31, 2017Activists Clayton Thomas-Müller and Vandana Shiva connect climate and social justiceAt the fifth Tommy Douglas Institute, environmental justice activists Vandana Shiva and Clayton Thomas-Müller ask: Unless we stand up for the planet we stand on, how can we stand for anything else?

New CPC leader Andrew Scheer is a smiling family-values conservative

30 May 2017 - 9:05am
Politics in Canada

Andrew Scheer had to go to the 13th ballot before winning the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership over Quebec MP Maxime Bernier by 51 per cent to 49 per cent.

Bernier had led every previous round of the voting.

Scheer, 37, was first elected to the House of Commons in 2004 at age 24.

He is Stephen Harper with a smile -- that was the consensus media take on the Conservative pick for leader, announced in Toronto Saturday.

Unlike Harper, he is considered friendly, but not noted for his quick thinking or interest in policy questions.

Both Harper and Scheer worked for MPs before running for Parliament: Harper for Calgary Progressive Conservative James Hawkes; Scheer in the Regina constituency office of Larry Spencer  of the Canadian Alliance (formerly Reform which eventually merged with the PCs to become the CPC).

Scheer is a practicing Roman Catholic, father of five children, and a "family values" social conservative, unsympathetic to reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, or transgender rights.

The months-long race was short a star candidate. On the first ballot, barely more than one out of five voters supported Scheer, while Bernier fell short of 30 per cent.

Party leaders with weak early-ballot support are thought to be less successful in general elections than those like Justin Trudeau who win outright on the first ballot.

Selling $15-memberships to potential voters worked out well for the Conservative Party of Canada. Party membership now stands at 240,000, up significantly.

Some 140,000 CPC members ranked the 13 official candidates from one to 10; and then took the trouble to mail in their ballots, appear at 13 voting stations organized across the country, or attend the Toronto convention where the results were announced. 

On each round of preferential voting the candidate with the lowest number of votes was dropped off the ballot for the following round. Then the ranked ballots of the dropped candidate were apportioned to the remaining candidates.

Voting was not only by preferential ballot; it was weighted voting. Each riding was assigned an equal value of 100, irrespective of the number of voters in the riding.

Adding up the riding-by-riding results produced the dropped candidate for each ballot (the one with the lowest weighted vote).

Weighted voting should have helped the Quebec candidate Maxime Bernier. Instead of winning the 78 Quebec ridings by a vast majority Bernier conceded 44 per cent to Scheer, who had the active support of four of the 12 Quebec CPC MPs, plus the influential Quebec farm union Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA).

Following UPA direction, Quebec farmers organized to defeat Bernier, who had always supported supply management at election time, but came out as opposed to supply management in the leadership campaign as part of his libertarian economic stance.

Weighted voting favoured rural ridings. Farm income support programs are popular in rural Canada, and particularly in the Beauce region of Quebec, where Bernier is from.

While Bernier lost support in rural Quebec -- including losing his own riding -- Scheer gained support when the fourth-place finisher turned out to be from Saskatchewan like himself.

Scheer takes a fiscal stance that dates from the Ronald Reagan era, as was revealed in his acceptance speech.

In order to create prosperity, cut taxes, he intoned. Picking up a daily mantra from the Conservative backbenches in the Harper era, Scheer promised to eliminate a Liberal "jobs-killing carbon tax."

Scheer pledged to end the big-spending government headed by Justin Trudeau. He said he did not want his children to grow up with a Canadian government going always deeper in debt, as it did under a Liberal government headed by Justin's father, when Scheer was growing up.

Scheer served as Speaker of the House of Commons from 2011 to 2015, a position that puts loyalty to Parliament before loyalty to party.

As Speaker, Scheer was poor to terrible in his daily performance. He showed no ability to enforce the rules of parliamentary debate, allowing government members to bray away, while ministers routinely disrespected questioners.

The Conservative non-answer was the same tiresome attack on the questioner, repeated day after day, making a mockery of the institution of Parliament, with the complicity of its chief officer.

The Liberals are delighted to attack Scheer for his social conservative views. His first challenge will be to show he is up to the standard set by Rona Ambrose as interim CPC leader.

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: 中華民國外交部 MOFA, R.O.C. (Taiwan)/flickr

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Shape of next B.C. government will have implications for all of Canada

30 May 2017 - 8:25am
May 30, 2017A minority NDP government in B.C. will have national significanceThe deal between John Horgan and Andrew Weaver does not absolutely assure that the NDP will get to form a minority government. If it does work out, the rest of the country will be watching closely.

Reality TV workers need collective rights: media union

29 May 2017 - 1:20pm
Meagan Gillmore

Ontario's Changing Workplaces Review doesn't do enough to recommend protections for the collective rights of workers in the reality TV industry, the Canadian Media Guild (CMG) says.

The all-media union has been trying to organize these workers for years. As reported previously by rabble.ca, workers in reality TV or documentaries, also called factual TV, are paid at inconsistent intervals and rates, lack benefits and union representation, and work in unsafe and competitive environments.

Many work as "independent contractors." This means they're not entitled to certain benefits under the Employment Standards Act (ESA).

The union hoped the report would recommend the government narrow who can be defined as an "independent contractor" so more people can be defined as "employees." It also wanted it to recommend the government to remove the exemptions the film and TV industry has under the ESA.

The final report, released on May 23, said the Ministry of Labour should make misclassification of workers a priority enforcement issue. It further recommends that "dependent contractors" be included as employees in the ESA. (They are already mentioned in the Labour Relations Act.)  It also said industry exemptions should be reviewed, but didn't provide specific guidelines about exemptions for the film and TV industry.

The government is scheduled to publically respond to the report in the next few days.

The report gave the union part of what it wanted: recommendations that could lead to greater individual rights. But it didn't "do anything that really helps our collective ability to represent people. That's where it's very disappointing," said Lise Lareau, who has been organizing CMG's campaign for factual TV workers.

Lareau said she's optimistic the government will support adding "dependent contractors" to those defined as employees in the ESA. Dependent contractors are people who depend on a small number of employers for their income. This change could impact thousands of Ontario workers, making it an easier concept for the general public to understand.

This includes many people who work in reality TV. But depending on how long contracts are, workers may only work for a couple companies a year.

"If (workers) depend on one or two pots, (they) become a dependent contractor," she said.

But Lareau's disappointed the recommendations don't directly address the exemption of the TV and film industry. The report recommends the government make reviewing existing exemptions a priority, but doesn't single out the TV and film industry for review. The report does identify other exemptions, particularly those that apply to residential building janitors, superintendents and caretakers, and pharmacists and information technology professionals. The report acknowledges the difficult working conditions of reality TV production, even describing it as the "Wild West" -- language the CMG has used.

The report recommends the government conduct an inquiry with various groups involved in the arts and creative industries to see what changes could be beneficial.

"In other words, they're parking any really major change to the sector until there's a further inquiry, which, let's face it, there probably never will be," said Lareau.

The report also highlights the need for sector-wide collective bargaining in the arts and creative industries. These industries "provide the main historic examples faced by contingent workers in our economy" it says, which means a sector-wide agreement in these industries could help people in other industries.

Factual TV workers need this agreement the most, said Lareau. They're "doubly suffering," she said. People who work in scripted television often have collective bargaining agreements and unions, even though the industry is exempt from the ESA. Factual workers don't have union protection -- making them especially vulnerable in an exempt industry.

The guild will continue to raise the problems caused by the film and television industry exemption with the government, Lareau said.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Michael Cory/flickr

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Corporate media have reached consensus about Andrew Scheer: He's Stephen Harper with a human face!

29 May 2017 - 2:24am
David J. Climenhaga

It was only the morning after the night before, but by early yesterday Canada's corporate media seemed to have reached a solid consensus about the new leader of the federal Conservative Party: Andrew Scheer is Stephen Harper with a human face!

Naturally, this wasn't exactly the way they put it. The way most corporate media outfits summed up the change atop the Conservative Party of Canada was that Scheer, the Saskatchewan MP and former Speaker of the House of Commons chosen by the Tories after several hours of faux suspense the night before, is Harper … with a smile.

As if a smile will make much difference!

Well, you have to give it to whatever is left of Canada’s "elite" media -- conservatives all, presumably, to a man and woman -- their faith in the notion the Canadian electorate is pretty dull and easy to fool is boundless.

These are, after all, the media corporations that before the 2015 federal election sent orders to their supposedly independent local franchises to run editorials supporting Harper or whoever the local Conservative was, or which, like The Globe and Mail, advised B.C. readers from its new Toronto aerie high above King Street East to hold their noses and vote for Christy Clark. The results? Not that effective.

So the thought that a new Stephen Harper with a human face will fix everything, restoring God to His heaven, order to His universe and Tories to Ottawa is a bit of a reach, even for them.

Never mind that in October 2015, the same voters sent the grimly self-righteous Harper and his neoliberal government packing, presumably fed up with its harsh tone, destructive market fundamentalism, and anti-science, anti-labour, anti-immigrant and anti-social policy agenda.

If we roll out the same policies advocated by a spokesperson with a less sinister smile and a modicum of charm, they seem to think, all will be well. Don't count on it, if your definition of all's well means Conservatives in power in the nation's capital.

There are those, of course, who might argue that Justin Trudeau, the prime minister whose Liberals were restored to government after a decade in the wilderness on Oct. 19, 2015, is the one who should be described as Stephen Harper with a human face.

But they are mostly New Democrats still labouring under the impression their own party would act differently in government, notwithstanding the 2015 policy platform of their current leader, now reduced to interim status partly as a result.

Regardless, as an understanding of just who the unexpected Scheer actually is, the realization is already dawning on a lot of voters that while he may have a nicer smile than Harper, in some ways he is could even be worse.

The former Conservative prime minister paid ritual obeisance to the unchanging attitudes of his party’s social conservative base, but it’s said here he never really had any intention of doing anything about them. In truth, he was a dogmatic market fundamentalist ideologist, pure and simple, and the only thing self-evidently genuinely religious about him was his quasi-religious faith in the Almighty Market.

When it comes to so-con dogma, Scheer may or may not be closer to the real thing than Harper was, but he certainly owes the party's social conservative base a heck of a lot more than Harper did. It was their votes, after all, that pushed him over the top.

On climate change and First Nations policies, it is true, he is a virtual clone of Harper. On science and labour, we don’t know yet for sure, but don't hold your breath hoping for anything better.

And while like Harper, Scheer has said he won't revisit the country's abortion laws, he has thrown a bone to the social conservatives by proposing tax breaks for home and private schoolers.

But that may not be enough for the party's so-cons, who are bound to be feeling their oats after pushing Scheer over the top Saturday. How will he say no when CPC social conservatives demand he re-open such divisive cans of political worms as the debates over abortion and same-sex marriage?

Well, hope springs eternal for Conservatives, just like the rest of us. But social conservatism is ballot-box poison in most parts of this country, and that's only going to become more pronounced as time rolls on.

Mr. Scheer is almost certainly bright enough to recognize this, but he can only do something to remedy the problem by alienating the angry, volatile, religious zealots who got him elected and now surely feel they have the right to tell the party what to do next. If he does that, chances are they'll stay home on election day.

If he turns out to be the true believer Harper wasn't, on the other hand, he can push policies in good conscience that will send the majority of Canadian voters screaming back to the Liberals and Trudeau.

Unlike former Conservative prime minister Joe Clark, mentioned in this space yesterday, Scheer is not exactly showing up at a point in Trudeau's career when voters are righteously sick of the prime minister, the way there were of his dad, Pierre Trudeau, in the late 1970s. At least, that is, until they got a short glimpse back then of Conservative government in action.

So despite Scheer's supposedly human face, don't bet the urban farm on him getting very far on the strength of a nice smile.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Marcos Oliveira/Agência Senado/flickr

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